Law in Contemporary Society

The blurred line: Does committing a crime create the criminal; or is being a criminal a crime?

We must understand that: 1) a ‘crime’ is a definition and 2) the application of the definition is what creates the ‘criminal’. This understanding is however inadequate by society’s standards. There has to be something off about those who do not subscribe to criminal definitions. We spend an extended period of time analyzing their behavior and single it out. Instead of looking at the crime as a judgment made by segments of our society about the behavior of others, we adopt the belief that their criminal behavior is an individual pathology. A pathology we are obligated to look out for and as a society to separate from.

Social Conflict

Those who are able to create the definitions of criminal conduct are those who: (1) have the power to do so and (2) who do so according to their respective interests. When the interests of the ‘powerful group’ in a society feel threated by a behavior, they figure out a strategy to curtail it. The interest’s turn into a policy which then formulate into a criminal definition. Each criminal definition has a policy that is attached to it. The fact policies are formulated to strengthen a groups interest over another is evidence that certain segments of society are in conflict with others.

Although public policies are determined by local, state and federal legislative bodies, The strongest argument with respects to who holds the “power” to shape public policy and criminal definitions are: criminal justice interest groups. Criminal justice interest groups (CJIG) are “organizations that are entirely or partially dedicated to influencing the formulation and execution of public policy in the areas of crime and criminal justice administration”. They include “professional groups, such as police officers' associations and bar associations, and groups that provide a mix of political activity and service to clients of the criminal justice system.” The analyses made by criminal justice interest groups explain why we make forcible sexual intercourse a felony.

It is important to note that the criminal justice interest groups do not include public service groups. Furthermore, there are three critical points to be taken away in understanding CJIG’s and their respective role. First, members within CJIG are more influential than those who are reformers or within social service groups. Second, economic, social, cultural conditions in each state affect the structure, power, and goals of the CJIG. Third, criminal justice legislation is generally passed without open conflict in state legislatures and without major public involvement in the process.

Once we keep these points in mind, it is apparent that when economic, social or cultural differences arise between the CJIG and the less influential segments of society, a “clash” will arise and criminal definitions will be created. Furthermore, it follows that the greater the differences in interest between this group and various segments of society, the greater the probability that CJIG will formulate criminal definitions.

Factors that may increase or decrease the probability that criminal definitions will be formulated include: (1) changing social conditions, (2) emerging interests, (3) increasing or decreasing demands that political and economic interests be protected. The criminality behind marijuana in NYC helps illustrate this understanding. African-Americans are disproportionately targeted with respects to marijuana. Economic, cultural and social conditions in NYC such as: unemployment across the city, racial integration and the subsequent pushback of such integration, and the reluctance of NYC citizens to grow in tolerance to minority groups will affect the structure, power, and goals of the CJIG.

The changing conception of crime

The way we look at society is a social construction. The “real world” is a social construction. The “social reality” is the world we as individuals create and believe in as our own. The construction of this reality is according to the knowledge we develop, the ideas we are exposed to, the manner in which we select the information that goes into this reality and the manner in which we interpret the information we select. We as human being behave in reference to the meanings we attach to our experiences. Crime is a construction that follows this rationale. The construction of criminal definitions depends on the portrayal of crime through mass communication. Of course the most important conceptions of crime are those held by the powerful segments of society, which we noted earlier is held by the CJIG. The conceptions held by this group in most likelihood is integrated in the way we look at crime. Furthermore, CJIG have a close working relationship with those who in media. The more the CJIG is concerned about crime, the greater the likelihood that criminal definitions will be created and the greater the likelihood that the behavior of certain individuals (often the powerless and voiceless) will be in opposition of such definitions.

In Conclusion

Although criminal definitions are amongst the most carefully focused in our statutory literature; there is still far too much discretion. The discretion stems from the realization that the power to create criminal definitions is centralized and limited to a small segment of society. Furthermore, this discretion is exercised throughout the criminal justice system: in law enforcement’s targeting of crime, trial and sentencing. Mandatory appeals is a way to limit this discretion, however, this is often mute. The problem with discretion in our present-day criminal justice system is that it is exercised without meaningful accountability. Additionally, we must understand that the social reality of crime can often be manipulated or tailored to meet a certain agenda or goal via mass communication. Albeit, the desire to give law enforcement discretion is understandable, the unchecked discretion that police and prosecutors currently exercise creates a significant amount of injustice.


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r9 - 29 Jun 2015 - 20:49:21 - MarkDrake
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